A few months ago, when it was announced that a number of movies by the iconic Japanese animation team Studio Ghibli would be hitting Netflix UK, people (in particular fans of the drug "ketamine") were psyched. Fast forward to now – as The Virus proliferates and our brains swim with distressing information every waking second – and we’ve moved beyond merely excited, and into positively-crying-with-gratitude territory.
The timing of a mainstream streaming service providing access to some of the most beautifully rendered technicolour reveries known to humanity couldn’t have been more perfect (watching a cartoon pig cut about in an intricately animated plane is a known cure for "coronavirus information overload," I’ll have you know!) So, for the second week of our Corona Film Club, we decided to honour that fact, by going along with VICE reader Billy Moir’s suggestion that we make a slightly deeper Ghibli cut – Hayao Miyazaki’s 1992 movie Porco Rosso – our movie of the week.
Here’s our review of Porco Rosso, by VICE writers Hannah Ewens, Ryan Bassil and Lauren O’Neill, plus responses from the live viewing party we threw last Saturday. See if your thoughts made the cut below, and suggest movies for future weeks by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be announcing next week’s film and schedule on Monday the 30th of March, so be sure to check vice.com and @viceuk on social media.
1) IS THIS FILM ANY GOOD?
Hannah Ewens: I am a Ghibli obsessive – I have all the films on DVD, I’ve been to the museum in Tokyo, I have a terrible Ghibli tattoo – so please, reader, relax into trusting my judgement. If I were to rank all 22 Ghibli movies, I’d say this comes comfortably in the top ten. There are certainly better Ghibli movies – Whisper of the Heart, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke – but this is one of the adult Ghibli films, one that you could show your dad or brother or grandfather and they’d enjoy it. It doesn’t have themes that knock you over the head, or childlike music and storylines of films like My Neighbour Totoro – it’s a very traditional animated movie in many ways. It was made in 1992 but feels intentionally very "old Hollywood" to me, to mirror the era it’s set in.
Is it good? Yes! If you don’t agree, it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy any other Ghibli films, which is sad for you, I guess.
Lauren O’Neill: Oh dear. I am sorry about this but I have to be truthful: I actually kind of hate a lot of 2D animated films, which I know is a heathen thing to say in the presence of the 2D animated gods Studio Ghibli, but for some reason I just find them quite difficult to get absorbed by, perhaps because I am not a child (I AM JOKING, Film Lovers please do not harass me online for failing to show appropriate reverence.)
While Porco Rosso didn’t necessarily change that, I did think it was cool and it had some interesting things to say about the necessity of co-dependence and how annoying Americans can be, both of which are topics I think about quite a lot.
Ryan Bassil: This film is… different. It’s not like the usual Studio Ghibli stuff. Usually, you’re getting cute plushy animal figures (Totoro), children and spirits. But this is about a smooth talking pig with a mop of hair. I’m not sure if I enjoyed it. It was funny though – the porky swine is a real wisecracker.
2) WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
RB: So, as I understood it, the pig rolls through the skies in his airplane, trying to evade capture from a coterie of increasingly enraged and stupid pirates, yet remains cool and unfazed throughout – even when his plane is shot down. It’s about a sophisticated, flying pig, with an unparalleled ability to fly a plane.
Tweetabix (via the viewing party livechat): This is the second Studio Ghibli film I’ve watched and the second that starts with pirates attacking small girls.
HE: It’s the late 1920s to early 1930s. A pig in a trench-coat used to be a handsome human man, and member of the Italian Air Force during WW2. After the war, appalled by governments and politics he decides to turn his back on being human and turns full oinker. Now he is a bounty hunter and known as the infamous Porco Rosso, the Crimson Pig, and despite snout and trotters he remains, in his words, a “known womaniser”. As he flies across the blue Adriatic skies, an Italian warrant out for his arrest, he is longed for by friend-slash-sweetheart, Gina, the owner of the famous Hotel Adriano.
Matt'n'eri (via livechat): So his name is Marco but everyone calls him Porco? Kinda rubbing it in?
Neets (via livechat): Isn’t this kinda the same concept as Cyrano de Bergerac?
3) OK, BUT WHAT’S IT *REALLY* ABOUT?
LO: This movie about a cartoon pig is really about so many things. There’s explicit denouncement of fascist Italy! There’s a critique of America (and of Hollywood as the be all and end all of both cinema and personal achievement – Gina laughs at the American pilot Curtis’ suggestion that she marry him and move there), and there’s a feminist element, too. All the workers in Piccolo’s workshop are replaced by women – because all the men have had to find work elsewhere following the Great Depression. They do a great job, especially Fio, a 17 year old girl, who is a very capable plane engineer.
HE: Girl power is a regular theme of Miyazaki’s! He frequently makes his young girl leads smart, strong and dependable. Despite the fact that Fio is a girl and Porco isn’t sure she’s up to the job, she handles it beautifully, and has the bravery to join him on his great ride. Apparently due to working on the film Only Yesterday at the same time, Miyazaki hired in all the key roles on the team, with extra female animators to work on Porco Rosso too, which mirrors the Piccolo workshop nicely.
LO: I guess the movie is also about the things we can achieve when we know that others believe in us – Porco wins his final scrap with Curtis by default when he hears that Gina, who is in love with him (who could blame her?), has come to find him.
RB: Like most things, it’s about love? But also a side-dish of fascism, World War II, death – all the good stuff!
4) WHAT ABOUT THE ACTING?
RB: It’s hard to judge the acting on this one because it’s all animated. However Michael Keaton as Piggy is definitely a stand-out here. I laughed a lot. He’s a good actor, and maybe even a better voice actor. You’re also getting Susan Egan as Gina, who played Meg in Disney’s Hercules, so that stirred up some nostalgia for me, for personable animated characters. So it’s pretty good on that front.
LO: The cartoon pig is *marvellous.* A tour de force!
Matt'n'eri (via livechat): The pig has a good haircut.
Rateusz (via livechat): I mean he is pretty hot.
HE: Yeah, I just really fancy the pig. This isn't new for me – I've fancied many Disney characters of all genders and species. But this big brute, full of wine and scorn for the world, really captured my heart.
5) WHO’S THE DIRECTOR? WHAT DID THEY DO HERE?
RB: Miyazaki, the king, directed this one. I think with this film he wanted to deviate from his more spiritual stuff and make something a bit more adult. I mean the pig, he drinks wine? It’s an adult-leaning turn isn’t it?
HE: Also, Hayao Miyazaki is a man in love with planes. His father, Katsuji, ran a company called Miyazaki Airplane, which manufactured tail fins for Japanese fighter planes during the Second World War and Hayao is known to have most likely named his animation studio after a type of Italian plane of this Porco period. Across all his movies, you'll see traces of this passion. But in Porco Rosso, it’s the first film where Miyazaki really gets to show his love of this world – with its great sweeping horizons, planes darting down and playing in the sky, and intricate mechanics of planes.
By this point in his career, he is firmly established as a genius. This is an unpretentious film made by a confident director. 2013's The Wind Rises, a biopic about a Japanese WW2 warplane designer, works as a pleasant – but more serious and sad – companion piece to this pig romp.
6) BEST SCENE?
LO: There’s a scene where everyone at the mechanic’s yard is eating spaghetti and I was like, “I would really go to town on that spaghetti because it looks amazing,” so that is my choice. Also there was a nice scene where Gina is sat in her garden which I liked because a) she’s in a garden and my quarantined brain had forgotten what one of those is and b) because she bodies Curtis – the American pilot – during it. “You love,” as the children say, “to see it.”
RB: I really liked the scene where Porco flies through the skies to a backdrop of what I remember as classical music, but is probably in fact one of those momentously beautiful and elegant opera songs, like the kind you get in (I think?) season three of The Sopranos when there are loads of funerals.
HE: I love the scene ten minutes in where Porco docks at the Hotel Adriano and walks into the bar where Gina, his love interest, is singing with all the 1930s characters watching on, men particularly captivated. It’s just very romantic to me and the pacing is perfect. I especially like it when the pig sees her from the top of the stairs and then plods down them, a cigarette hanging out his mouth. A suave pig.
Da5e (via livechat): Do you think pigs could actually smoke irl?
Angehieux (via livechat): Wouldn’t you hate the taste of smoke as a pig?
7) WHAT’S COOL ABOUT IT?
RB: The pig is very cool. I don’t feel I should think he’s cool because he’s a very distant character, but he is. I wouldn’t want his life, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a dude. And also maybe an asshole. But also cool? A cool asshole. Weird film tbh.
LO: Yeah, the pig is righteous, especially his moustache. I also like that even though this is the rare Ghibli movie that is set in anything like the real world, in amongst real historic events, there’s still this batshit concept – that a fighter pilot was transformed into a pig who can still talk, walk on two legs, wear clothes and fly a plane – at the centre of it. It makes it really identifiable as a Studio Ghibli film and differentiates it from other types of animated movies.
Angehieux (via livechat): Can pigs even eat salmon and drink alcohol? How can he even stand up as a pig? Is he pig from the head up? Why doesn’t he have trotters?
HE: It’s also arguably the most quotable Ghibli film. Porco gives lines like, “I’d rather be a pig than a fascist” and signs off with “Sorry baby, gotta fly”. Please.
8) DOES IT ILLUMINATE ANYTHING ABOUT OUR CURRENT PANDEMIC PREDICAMENT?
LO: It made me think about two things in particular. The first is how amazingly nature is portrayed, which made me even more excited to get back out into the world and appreciate the beauty of it, which is maybe a bit of an annoying thing to say but I unfortunately have to live my truth. Porco Rosso got me amped up to admire some green trees, swim in some glistening water, feel some breeze on my skin, and, of course, pet some pigs.
The second thing that this movie made me think about is how badly we need each other. Porco is essentially a benevolent force in the film, a sort of begrudgingly kind grouch, like Vin Diesel in The Fast and the Furious – he respects Fio’s engineering work even though she’s a young girl; he refuses to shoot a fellow pilot, even when that pilot is the worst guy ever – but he doesn’t believe in himself. He’s surprised to learn that people think highly of him, or that they might be there for him when he needs them. Ultimately it’s Gina’s voice – her call to him, when she shouts his real name, “Marco” – that saves him from losing his final skirmish with Curtis. I thought that was a cool symbol of how badly we need friendship, which feels like an important and timely thing to remember right now.
HE: If we’re all in this together and work hard, we’ll pull through – or something.
RB: There’s no sense of a pandemic here but Porco does demonstrate some exemplary social distancing. Not many people up there in a plane, are there? We say two metres, he says sky high.
Matt'n'eri (via livechat): This pig film has cheered me up.
Jack (via livechat): If anyone has Porco's self-isolation workout plan plz send.